Monday, June 13, 2011

Is this Really a War of Words or is it a Complete Lack of Understanding?

I have not been transitioning as long as some people I've met online and in the groups I've attended but I have been going through this enough to realize at least one thing. The trans community is very caught up in how words are defined and what label applies to which group. We as a community are concerned with the nuances of terms, the -isms and -ilities. We repeatedly correct the media or other people when they use words such as “transgendered” or “so-in-so is an mtf”. I certainly know that I have my opinion on these terms and their usage, and have read a number of well written blog posts and books that deal with this very topic as well. Before going much further I want to point out I think it is important to stress the correct terms and how to use them, but I think we have to look at things from every angle and I try to do just that.

Keeping this in mind, I ask is this borderline obsession with grammar and exactness putting the cart before the horse? Should we be concentrating on these details instead of getting the main message out. That message is simple, but contains fundamental information the average person just doesn't understand... What is that message? It is that we are human, what we are going through is real, and what we experience is not something anyone would choose to do. While most of us did make a choice, that choice was to stop lying to our selves and our loved ones, and to live (sometimes literally). The choice wasn't to wake up one day and decide we wanted to be a girl (or boy). It is not that simple. Shouldn't we be focusing in on these things instead of what to call us or whether a term is a noun or adjective?

I think these points are often missed. You notice all kinds of tweets and posts about how Metro News in Big City USA ran a headline reading “Transgendered man attacked” used “transgendered” in a sentence and called the trans woman a man. The thing is that so many see and hear these things and simply assume the wording is due to bias or discrimination.

Now I can't say that it is not and but I can say from my experience so far, most people I've talked to (even people who have trans family members or friends) truly don't know or understand who we are let alone what is wrong with the headline described above. In fact, the average person couldn't tell you the difference between a transgender man, a trans man and a drag king, yet we hold people and media outlets to this bar of exactness that I think is (at least in some instances) unreasonable... Maybe the news outlets should know better, maybe our neighbors should understand that we aren't just men in dresses but the fact is many of them don't.

Now I know for a fact (it didn't take long to learn either) that some people do in fact deliberately say things that are insulting or demeaning (such as when the nurse at my wife’s old doctor looked right at me in a dress, pearls and high heels and told me the men's rest room was around the corner) but honestly to me this seems like the exception, so I'll say it again. Let's get the message out about who we are and when a newspaper posts a story with a headline like the one described above, instead of demanding an apology, why not send them a polite email explaining why the statement is wrong, offer them information and point them in the direction of factual documentation on gender identity. Maybe I am overly optimistic or even delusional but over the last three years or being very out and I have yet to find anyone really who knew anything about transsexuality other then saying “yeah, I've seen the surgery on TV, that looks painful”.

Lastly, some readers may point out that some people in the LGBT community use all these terms wrong and they should at least know better... My response is why? I know I fumble sometimes in the way I explain or word things and I think I am pretty versed in all of this. I also know that when I first started this journey I didn't know anything about any of this. I didn't understand myself let alone the nuances of gender identity and gender roles. I say that too many people in this community feel alone and isolated. The last thing any one of us needs is for someone, from what should be the most supportive and understanding group of people, jumping down their throats because of grammar mistakes.

The point is we are all in this together and at this point it doesn't matter if you call me transgendered or say that I have been diagnosed with transsexualism, people do not even have a rudimentary understanding of what these things mean, let alone how to use them correctly in a sentence.

Again, maybe I am just being silly or maybe this is all wishful thinking but I think I am bringing up some valid points. I am sure people will disagree so please let me know what you think about this topic...


Miz Know-It-All said...

This confusion is NOT the general publics fault and you're right! They are not to be expected to nuance the differences! It would be insane to think so, but as long as we are stuck under this blasted umbrella with the transvestites. Being a woman with a transsexual past is going to be seen the same to that general public as no different than some fat balding guy whacking off in the wifes panties!

Problem is he can take em off and go back to being the creepy guy next door but for us this is not a joke! It is not something to put on and take off as the mood hits! This is an all or nothing proposition as it should be

As Mama said... if you lay down with dogs, don't be surprised when you get up with fleas! Accept the ghetto with open arms if you want dear and be happy with being seen as a pervert in the public's eye! But for me? I am going to fight for my dignity as a woman and JUST a woman, till my last dying breath!

Carolyn Ann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carolyn Ann said...

(Oops. Typo. So I've reposted my response.)

And you're going to ensure you denigrate as many transgendered people as you can, right, Miz Know-It-All? Not for you the making of any effort to perceive the transgender experience, or understanding how your denigration reflects a base transphobia? (I simply love the irony of your insulting others! it's so funny!)

Does your fight for dignity include the denigration of others? Does it include the denial of dignity to others who have made different choices in life? Did your thinking ever extend to considering that your dignity is not a zero-sum game? Or does your precious language preclude the possibility that the decisions others make in life is none of your damn business? Like your decisions and actions are none of anyone else's?


Carolyn Ann

Katherine said...

Ok, lets keep things from getting nasty please but I have to say, Miz Know-It-All I disagree with your view point 100%. I know a few people who identify simply as cross dresser and I have to say that I am proud to call them my friends. One person in particular has been one of my biggest supporters throughout my entire transition.

Anonymous said...

I can see both sides of this issue. As a trans guy who is, so far, NEVER read as male I feel deeply the pain of being misgendered, and so when ANOTHER article calls a murdered trans woman "a man who lived as a woman" I know it adds to the pain of having lost a person to senseless violence and the fear that us or our loved ones could easily be that person.

At the same time, I do think that it's important to try to educate and correct people rather than *fight* those who may not truly be our enemies.

As for Miz Know-It-All's comment, I did think her language was degrading, but at the same time understand the frustration over being thought of as a cross-dresser when one is not. I think it all boils down to the need to educate people. There is NOTHING wrong with cross-dressers, and they should be taken seriously as well -- however, the general public needs to understand the difference between cross-dresser and transsexual.

Anonymous said...

The general public does not want to be informed (as it does not involve them), and people believe the way they do and no amount of "education" will ever change that. It would be better if we simply except that people are the way they are and live our lives the way we want and not get provoked or upset about anything anyone else is doing or saying because we have no control over anyone else's thoughts/actions only our own. If we do not allow others to cause within ourselves a disgust, hate or fear about the ignorance of others, and have more uplifting and constructive conversations of who we are and what we want, we will promote better and faster change toward acceptance.

Katherine said...

Anonymous, this stance implies that there is no out there activity trying to undermine us as a community. The truth is that there are people talking about this subject and passing out misinformation. Without a doubt we must fight to make sure that the information is accurate. I for one will not sit back and hope the discrimination will just go away cause it won't.

I also disagree that people don't want to know as almost everyone I have spoken to do have a genuine desire to better understand the topic.